A friend of mine posted a link to this on Facebook the other day. It's a beautiful, melancholy, wistful piece.

I've seen a few of those, and I have noted that, at least in my possibly not-very-representative sample, a lot of women wanted to be pretty, whatever that was to them, to have that moment where everyone in a room stops and stares at their beauty.

That is a real thing, and it does happen sometimes, but it doesn't go quite the way I think most people think it does.

I'm not gonna lie, I think it's fun, in the same way being on stage is fun. And I mean exactly the same way being on stage is fun. If you don't like being on stage, if the very idea of having to get up in front of a million people to give a performance or a presentation triggers your secret magical anime transformation into Super Pass-Out Panic Monkey GO!, then you would hate it with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. I'm not saying that you're guessing wrong about how you'd react if the entire room spontaneously decided to shower you in approval for being able to dress and groom yourself in a visually-pleasing manner. I'm saying that's not actually what happens.

See, in real life, you don't walk into the room and start immediately receiving psychic rays of validation for your fashion choices. You walk into the room and sooner or later, you come to the realization that people are turning to look at you when you pass them. Nobody tells you why they're staring. If you ask, in fact, most of them will deny having done it at all, because they think it's rude and they're embarrassed to have been caught out. If you are not already the kind of person who is willing to come to the conclusion, all on your own, that nothing's wrong with you and they're probably fixated because your new dress looks particularly bangin' tonight, the experience is going to be disquieting at best.

If you're the kind of person who can't help but presume the worst whenever people pay attention to you, you're going to want to melt through the floor and languish there in puddle form until the world ends or everyone forgets about you, whichever comes first.

One of my more infamous incidents was at a group shoot in Worcester. We had a bunch of photographers and a bunch of models in a large converted warehouse space with various photo backdrops arrayed around the edges, and a wardrobe room where everyone could drop their stuff and get changed. While I was shooting for a latex designer, I ran into Suki Jones, who had three suitcases of dresses and zero models, all of them having flaked, so I volunteered to shoot some of her stuff while the model I'd carpooled with finished her work.

I ended up in a green laser-cut lamé dress. It was originally meant to be a mermaid skirt, but I had no tops that matched and she had misplaced the bikini that went with it, so I hiked it up as a dress and held it there mainly by stuffing it into the top of a strapless bra. I didn't really know what her 'look' was yet, so I padded out onto the floor barefoot, to ask trivial things like whether she thought it was okay like that, and what shoes she wanted me to wear.

This is the dress:



It's properly mine now, in exchange for some later work. This makes me very happy, but that's beside the point.

Suki was out somewhere in the middle of things, and to get to her I had to pass some little clots of 'togs, exchanging the usual water-cooler gossip in between sessions. As I walked past them, the talking suddenly stopped. Absolutely dead. By the time I got to Suki, other people had stopped talking and looked around to see why the first few had stopped talking. Some of them had gathered their cameras and were following me out towards the sets.

I elected to ignore them, because I had to ask Suki things about accessories, and because ignoring that is normally what I do. This, for some reason, will sometimes drive bystanders bonkers. When I was a teenager, I wore a short skirt to a geeky convention, because it was Phoenix and it was a thousand degrees and I don't own shorts.  I was fine, but Tommy spent most of the day trailing me around protectively, and later told me that if I ever did it again he was going to bring a baseball bat, just in case.

This time, I was in a professional environment where having men with cameras follow you and your fabulous dress around the room is expected -- encouraged, even -- and not necessarily creepy, so ignoring it worked fine. But by the time I got Suki to answer me about gloves (yes) and shoes (no) and pick a backdrop to shoot against, I was towing half a dozen photographers. Never saw any of them before in my life, and I don't think I've seen any of them again either. Just perfect strangers, staring and pointing cameras at me, flashes going pop-pop-pop.

I've been doing this for an embarrassingly large number of years now, and I'm used to that kind of thing. Remove all the context from it, though, and imagine how you'd feel if that happened to you. Nobody says, "We wish to bask in your glory," they just look and move and assume you are aware of why.

You're not going to get your 'radiant Disney princess' moment unless you already figure 'radiant Disney princess' is a thing that you can pull off if you give it the ol' college try. Anyone who tells you that moments like those come entirely from within and have nothing to do with the reactions of others is feeding you a crock of purest bullshit, but it does require an interaction of sorts, and you can't hold up your half of the bargain if you don't have access to that state of mind.

As I said. Exactly like being on stage. Food for thought, I hope.

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